Category Archives: Garden Design

thoughts on garden design

Blue Plumbago…Problem or Not?

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Blue shades, clockwise from the top: Clematis, Lavender, Baptisia, Nepeta, Geranium ‘Rozanne’, Campanula ‘Sarastro’, Wisterla ‘Amethyst Falls, and Plumbago auriculata

Funny thing…this favorite color, the color of the sky above… true blue-baby blue is not the easiest color to mix and match. Think of the blues in the garden…most shades have red in them…the violets have a darker red, lavenders can have that pinkish tint. Blue flowers also look so different depending on the light…take a picture of a blue flower on a cloudy day, or at  midday, and at dusk and notice how the hue changes.

I have a challenge here…I’m trying to decide which plants I can use to complement a lovely blue Plumbago auriculata in one of my containers. My aim, as always, is to have the container look great now through September, and have it be pretty easy care.

First if you are unfamiliar with Plumbago,  it is a tender perennial/shrub producing powder blue phlox like blossoms endlessly all sumer.  Plumbago forms sizable shrubs where it is hardy, but for those of us growing here in the northeast, expect plants to grow to 2’-2 1/2’ in a season in our gardens or pots.

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One thought I had was to play with complementary colors….light orange and light blue are color opposites. I found a consistent apricot in Heuchera ‘Champagne’, and I thought  of adding some light yellow/lime…perhaps the Helichrysum ‘Limelight’ or Oxalis ‘Copper Glow which has tints of orange too. A green ornamental grass like Hakonechloa macra can add a different texture and natural feeling. A possibility, but then I realized I didn’t have a pot this group works with.

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I did have this white handled jar. Blue and white is a classic combination. Gaura ‘So White’ adds a wispy vertical, Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost is an all purpose filler with an aura of baby’s breath , and for bold punch, the glossy foliage of Angelica pachycarpa which can be set out in the garden in the fall. Needed something to trail so I tucked in a Teardrop Ivy.

What do you think? What would you pair Plumbago with?

Smitten by Solomon’s Seal

Polygonatum x hybridum 'Striatum'

Polygonatum x hybridum ‘Striatum’

Unfurling

Other forms….Unfurling

Dancing

Dancing

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Dangling

Just a few images to share….loving the various species and  forms in the genus Polygonatum (Solomon’s Seal).  We currently have about 15 selections, ranging in size from tiny 6″ Polygonatum humile to  6′ selections of P. biflorum. and are always seeking out more.

quick facts: Solomon Seals is in the family Asparagaceae. Most forms are hardy in zones 5-8, (a few in zones 3 & 4). They slowly spread by jointed rhizomes, and enjoy well drained soil in partial to full shade. Long lived and almost indestructible, Solomon’s Seal is one of those plants that holds its good looks with little care all season.

Asparagus Ferns to Know and Grow

Perhaps your grandmother had a big hanging basket of Asparagus Fern on her shady porch…you probably didn’t think much about it, but there it lived, thriving with little care, living in the same pot for what seemed to be years on end. Yes-sir-ree…a testimony to a plant which could thrive on neglect.

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Just planted….Asparagus setaceus plumosa, with 2 begonias in an 8″ square pot.

Despite their fernlike ambience, this group of foliage plants are not ferns at all, but members of the Lily family (Liliaceae). An inspection of the root system reveals a mass of bulb-like tubers, (think lily bulbs). Being pot bound doesn’t discourage their vigor and although they like bright light, Asparagus Ferns can exist satisfactorily with quite a bit of shade. They do not need a constant supply of moisture, and prefer a soil that is sharp draining. Take note: Asparagus Ferns make great companions to Begonia  which like similar conditions… bright light to shade, and a soil that doesn’t stay wet.

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Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’ (L) and densiflorus ‘Myersi’ (R)

The most familiar species is A. densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’, known for it’s arching stems of apple green narrow leaves. (For those who need to be on top of all things botanical…the genus is now Protasparagus, but that may be too much information for some. ) The next most commonly encountered form is the Foxtail Asparagus, A. densiflorus ‘Myersi’, with its  gorgeous chunky plumes.

Now, let me introduce you to  a few siblings, which offer variety but require the same easy care, and of course are suitable as cut greenery for arrangements.

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Clockwise from upper left: A. densiflorus ‘Cwebe’, A. setaceus plumosa, A. setaceus pyramidalis, and A. macowanii

Asperagus densiflorus ‘Cwebe’ is not dissimilar to Grandma’s form, but ‘Cwebe’ tends to be more upright, growing, to 18-20″ tall, and has an interesting bronze tint to the new growth. Asparagus setaceus plumosa is  very lacy,  and is familiar to those who purchase cut greens for arranging.  Asparagus setaceus pyramidalis also has lacy, fine textured foliage with an upright thrust. Perhaps the sweetest of all is Asparagus macowanii, commonly called Ming Fern, with very delicate forest green foliage. As a young plant A. macowanii  is quite small in stature, but if grown in a conservatory or outdoors where it is hardy, it can reach a height of 5’ at maturity.

Early Spring Blues at Wave Hill

wave_hill_blues72Hey New Yorkers, you shouldn’t miss this scene. All at once and everywhere, Glory of the Snow, Chinonodoxa sardensis, has created carpets of  blue on the grounds of beautiful Wave Hill in Riverdale. I had an hour or so to wander the grounds before my talk in the city on Wednesday, and was able to capture a few images.

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On the slope behind the building that houses the Glyndor Gallery, there were easily a gazillion bulbs just beginning to open.  I have no idea how many were originally planted, but over the past 50 years (guessing) Chionodoxa  has self sown with total abandon. Take note: it is deer resistant so it is the perfect bulb for naturalizing in a woodland garden.

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Chionodoxa sardensis

From each bulb rise 4-6″ stems bearing 5-10 starry blue flowers accented with white centers which give quite a jolt of color.  Plant where you won’t mind the foliage lingering while it stores energy before dying back. Glory of the Snow starts blooming just as Crocus begin to fade and is a good companion bulb to the earliest daffodils, Adonis and Hellebores.  Hardy in zones 3-8.

…wish you had a Winter Greenhouse?

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The Aloes begin to bloom in January

Maybe it’s a luxury, or maybe not…

One of the perks of running a nursery is that on any winter morning I can walk out to the heated 100′ greenhouse and smell the promise of spring. We can’t afford to have the heat cranked up….the thermostat is set at 55F in the warmer half, just enough heat to keep our Begonia collection from pouting . The rear 50′ section drops to 45F at night, and this is where we store our Salvia, Phormium, tender succulents, and plants for forcing.  As the daylight hours gradually increase, early blooming plants set buds and begin to unfurl.

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Today’s arrangement of cut and forced material, including Daphne, Hellebores, Echeveria, Aeonium , Begonia and Ivy

Up until a half  century ago, it was not uncommon for gardeners to have some form of greenhouse structure to protect tender plants, force bulbs and other flowers for arranging, grow herbs and to get a start on seed sowing. For the most part these were not formal glass houses, but homemade lean to’s and pit frames built into a south facing slope or dug into the earth to take advantage of geothermal warming. These “pits” were excavated to a depth of 4′ or more, with hay bales tucked along the perimeter for insulation. Recycled window sashes were used to allow light into the frames, as these were the days before plastic and polyethylene.

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A dear gardening friend, Elinor Malcom, who was one of our nursery’s first customers, loved her “pit” in Carlisle MA. where she wintered over many treasures including a collection of Camellias that belonged to her mother. Ellie’s mom had been an accomplished gardener and was good friends with Kathryn Taylor, who co-authored with Edith Gregg, the book Winter Flowers in Greenhouse and Sun-heated Pit, first published in 1941, now out of print.  My husband Chris was lucky to find a copy in a local used book store sometime ago. (PS…your library may have a copy!)

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pages illustrated with early photos of pit frames

This practical book does go into the how-to’s of small greenhouse growing, but I think the authors hit a happy nerve with their enthusiasm for solar pit houses. Ms. Taylor and Ms. Gregg showed how, with a little Yankee ingenuity and thriftiness, the average home gardener could have the luxury of blossoms and greenery during the winter months without electricity or heating units. The prose is entertaining and easy to understand and there are a number of good technical illustrations as well as charming B & W photographs.The women shared not only their successes but some of the pitfalls they encountered (no pun intended). The last chapters focus on recommended plants for winter forcing. I was greatly impressed with their expertise and ability to use materials  that were easy to be had without great expense, and I loved the simple but direct dedication at the book’s beginning: To the husbands who dug the holes”.

An online search indicated Winter Flowers in Greenhouse and Sunheated Pit is available as a used book on Amazon, but I would also recommend checking out second hand book shops.  For those who are interested in learning more about constructing a pit greenhouse, check out these links: Mother Earth News,  Inspiration  Green, and Solar Innovations. There are now many publications on the subject, some more suited to commercial growing.

Wouldn’t it help you to get through the winter if you could walk out your door after a snowstorm and bring in a gathering of fresh flowers and greenery?

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

Mahonia x media 'Charity'

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

What shrub has evergreen foliage resembling both holly and fern, blooms in late fall/early winter with a candelabra of fragrant primrose yellow flowers, is drought tolerant once established and not a favorite of marauding deer? Answer: Mahonia x media ‘Charity, a hybrid of the two species, M. japonica and M. lomariifolia.

Ever since I saw a form of Mahonia  blooming in winter in the Plymouth MA garden of my friend Susanne, I have wanted to have this plant in my garden. Certainly, this is pushing the hardiness limits in our neck of the woods, so I have been  scouting for a very protected spot (thinking of a clearing in our now dense grove of Yellow Groove Bamboo).  ‘Charity’ is hardy to 0 degrees F, but we usually dip below that for at least a day or two each winter.

Of course all of you who live in balmier zones 7-9 should consider giving this winter interest plant a try.  It is a broadleaf evergreen, and so it would be prudent to choose a site with protection from winter winds and strong western sun. Plants develop a vase shape and usually grow to 5-7’ tall but can reach 10’ in mild climates, with a width of 3-6’. The flowers begin forming in late October, providing unexpected color when you need it most from late November into January. The multiple upright racemes of small flowers are magnets for bees, who may venture out on mild days. Rich blue fruit follow in spring, thus the common name Grape Holly,  and these are relished by birds. Older foliage may take on reddish tones in late winter, and tarnished leaves should be pruned once fresh growth begins to unfurl.

Mahonia can be grown in full sun or dappled shade, but if grown in full sun it it may require a bit more watering in dry spells. I should also add that the foliage has rather unfriendly sharp edges, and can deliver a “look but don’t touch” message to passerby.

Do you grow any forms of Mahonia and how have they performed where you live? Please share your experience.

Photographing Plants, Gardens, Chanticleer

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A view from inside The Ruins

It’s been on my calendar for months: Oct. 23-25, a 3 day weekend at Chanticleer, taking photographs with guided instruction from Rob Cardillo and Lisa Roper. Rob is an accomplished garden photographer who recently collaborated with Adrian Higgins, garden writer for The Washington Post, to chronicle the seasonal beauty of this “pleasure garden” as well as honor the artistic creativity of the talented staff in Chanticleer, A Pleasure Garden. Lisa  Roper is one of the horticulturists at Chanticleer, who combines her artistic training with horticultural knowledge to design, implement and tend special garden areas, most recently the celebrated Gravel Garden. Lisa takes much of the imagery that graces the Chanticleer website.

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The Gravel Garden: Aster (Symphyotrichon) ‘October Skies’ with Grasses

I was also a tad worried. I knew that frost had struck the gardens just the week before (as it had here in my own garden), and I was wondering if the photo ops would be minimized by one freezing night’s wrath.

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Fall color…Oak leaves in the Ruins

No need for concern, as a  garden as beautifully composed as Chanticleer always has imagery to offer. There was luminous autumn foliage of course,  and the grasses were at their prime, as well as seed pods which offered curious if not whimsical subject matter.  I tend to look at things differently and find beauty in decay, as the garden surrenders to shorter days and limited temperatures.

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An early arrival on Friday allowed me time to do some scouting as to where I should  zoom in for image taking. The light in the garden was a bit harsh before 5pm,  but this vignette on the covered porch had possibilities, so I made a mental note.

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Chiaroscuro Orchid

Good thing I did, because Sunday morning brought drizzle and skies of gray, and the porch was a safe refuge. The light turned out to be exquisite. I haven’t succumbed to orchid addiction yet, but this Lady Slipper Orchid caught the light most pleasingly in a chiaroscuro sort of way. Overcast days can present opportunities.

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Chanticleer: Outdoor Living Room

The Ruin and its surroundings have always been my favorite part of the garden, although I am apt to change my mind depending on the season. This outdoor living room, with its cut stone sofa and chairs, is both whimsical, functional, and works as year round sculpture.

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Chanticleer…the reflecting pool with succulents

Within the walls of the Ruin is the most elegant raised reflecting pool. After taking several shots at different times from different angles, a few images were quite pleasing but this one really sang. Yes, I am a succulent fanatic, and isn’t it delicious the way the succulents are reflected, not only in the pool but on the polished stone apron as well?

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An admission here:  I was unleashing my individualist’s streak here trying to work out this composition. (I had stopped at the Barne’s Foundation on Friday morning and absorbed a lot of Impressionist and Post Impressionist sensibilities.) I wanted to capture the pattern on pattern of the Poncirus (Hardy Orange) with the tree trunks and fall foliage in the background. There wasn’t a positive response from my classmates when I shared this image, but y’know, I still like it.

This brings me to a strong recommendation: whether you’re a budding photographer or involved in any artistic pursuit, you should consider signing up for workshops with peers. It is quite astonishing how everyone sees things differently. Each individual has his/her own point of view, and most points of view are valid. Positive or constructively critical feedback provides you with an awareness you are unlikely to arrive at on your own. Our instructor, Rob Cardillo, always found something positive to say about each participant’s work, and was kind and generous with his instruction on how each image could be improved.

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Fall Finale

One last note: if  you’re someone who loves gardens and has never been, plan to visit Chanticleer.  There are only a few days left before they close for the season on November 1st, but the 2016 season begins again early next spring. It is a public garden that is intimate, artistic, and full of horticultural treasures.  It truly is a Pleasure Garden; there is no better way to describe it.

September Container Report: 3 months later

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sept_gray.urn500When planning container combos to display throughout our gardens and nursery, I want each planter to showcase unusual selections and color combos, have a beautiful rhythm, be easy to care for and still look terrific at the end of the season! Of course with our unpredictable summer weather (some years too wet, others too dry) some combinations hold up better than  others. Above are my five favorite ensembles, and below are the dozen pots shown in the early summer “Before Shots” blog post , ( the end of September shot is right beside it).

ba_sept_tall_cylTall Cylinder Pot…The Verbena bonariensis, Tradescantia and Lantana exploded! The Melianthus held its own, but the Lemon Coral Sedum lost its battle with the Pale Puma Tradescantia, and the Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ has wimped out. Note that the Lantana montevidensis has never needed deadheading and shows no signs of stopping flower production.

ba_septhydpotThe California Hydrangea Pot has aged gracefully. While the Ornamental Oregano ‘Kent Beauty’ had a great showing all through July into August, it finally allowed the Gold Wings’ Tradescantia to take over spilling, while the slower growing Abutilon ‘Pink Charm’ is now dazzling into fall.

basept15_ironurnThe Cast Iron Urns have retained a subtle beauty all season. (The purple cast to the September shot demonstrates how the end of day light is changing. ) A super easy combo that required only an occasional cutting back of the Pelargonium sidoides flowering stems, the plant selections of Beschorneria, Cuphea hyssopifolia aurea  Tradescantia Pale Puma’ and variegated Ivy held its scale well for the past 3 months.

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Hummer’s Pot. Perhaps the least impressive pot at the beginning of the season but with real staying power as the plants aged beautifully. The Cuphea ‘David Verity’ has only asked to be watered regularly, and has never needed deadheading, the Helichrysum ‘Limelight’ did need a cut back once this summer, and the Oxalis ‘Zinfandel’ continues to shine with its dark foliage and tiny yellow flowers. Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ is working well here. Hummingbirds loved visiting, and this is still an impressive planting for autumn.

basept_whitepotThe white form of Lantana montevidensis began to overwhelm the other plants in the White Bean Pot , even after being cut back several times….Oh well, too much of a good thing has its drawbacks.

ba_septcastironCharcoal Urn... I wasn’t surprised that this combination of Phormium and Succulents would be easy care and would age well. It needed only occasional watering, and cutting back the Silver Falls Dichondra when it dripped onto the pathway.

basept15_spiderwreathCan you notice any difference in the Living Wreath of Mini Spider Plants (left–June, right–late September)? This is the perfect vertical garden for a shady door, needing only twice a week watering, even during the hot dry summer we just experienced.

basept_abutilonpotThis ensemble spoke quietly at first but became more memorable as the summer continued. The Abutilon ‘Pink Charm’ became more floriferous, the Heuchera ‘Beaujolais’ is taking on fall appropriate tawny tones, and I just adore the little Rosary Vine, Ceropegia woodii, dangling over the sides, with its peculiar pink and charcoal gray flowers.

basept_begoniaamorphoThis shady pot grouping was an experimental mix of similarly colored foliage…the tall Amorophophallis konjac(Voodoo Lily) never put out a spathe, but looked okay until early September when it very quickly began to go dormant. I was left with a nice full pot of Begonia ‘Wild Pony’ and little B. bowerae.

basept_zenThe Zen Bowl of succulents hardly needed any care so we didn’t pay attention until it became overwhelmed with Sedum ‘Lemon Coral’ in early August, which completely smothered  its shorter neighbors. A harsh cut back helped, but it was a little too late for the buried plants to put on much growth.  We’ve had such a warm September that the succulents have yet to take on their fall tones…will try to get another image now that we are starting to get cooler nights.

basept15_martiniThe Succulent Martini Pot was the hit of the summer…we sold this combination of plants over and over again. Notice how the rosy red flowers of little Crassula schmidtii add that perfect zing.

basept15_seashellOur classic Seashell Pot with Succulents has aged beautifully,wouldn’t you agree? The September image shows how different the end of the day light is three months later.

Which combination ideas might you borrow for your containers next year?

Previous years results: 

September shots 2014

September shots 2013

September shots 2012

Not Just Fall Color: Enkianthus campanulatus

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Enkianthus fall foliage

Redvein Enkianthus is about to betray its quiet charms any day now, with a display of technicolor fall foliage in shades of gold, orange, fiery red through purple. In mid to late spring it delights in a more soft-spoken way, bearing dainty clusters of white or red bells, depending on the cultivar. E. ‘Lipstick’ has white bells delicately edged in brick red, ‘Red Bells’ are colored, as the name suggests, coral red, and ‘Showy Lantern’. A slow growing shrub at first, it is often listed at growing from 6-8′ tall and 4-5′ wide, but with age it can easily reach 15′ or more with a wider reach. In fact, Enkianthus campanulatus can be pruned to from a lovely small tree. It is a perfect candidate for the partially shaded garden, both large and small.

Enkianthus campanulatus

Enkianthus campanulatus

Enkianthus 'Lipstick'

Enkianthus ‘Lipstick’

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Enkianthus c. ‘Red Bells’

Enkianthus c. 'Showy Lantern'

Enkianthus c. ‘Showy Lantern’

Grow Redvein Enkianthus in full sun or partial shade. It enjoys an enriched, well drained, acidic soil that stays evenly moist, although we have found it to be quite forgiving of dry spells, once established. It is deer resistant, but please note that deer will eat almost anything if hungry enough. Perfectly hardy in zones 5-8, with some reporting success growing it in zone 4B.

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